In Addition to Price, Consider Aesthetics, Durability and the Environment
Story by Marsha Canright
Choosing the perfect countertop is a key design decision when creating or remodeling a kitchen. There are a mind-boggling number of options to explore and they can be expensive, so proceed with a plan and a budget to save time and angst.
Every countertop material has strengths and weaknesses, so your choice should depend on your particular needs. You may want to consider long-term durability, the level of maintenance required, and the environmental impact of your choice.
Laminates are the most affordable choice. Made from layers of plastic usually bonded to particleboard, these products are offered in a wide range of styles and textures at prices ranging from $12 to $40 per square foot. Because the material is not porous, it does not absorb food spills or bacteria: a definite hygienic plus. Laminates are low maintenance needing only soap and water to clean. On the downside, they are not as resistant to heat or scratches. Depending on usage, they may not stand up as well over time or last as long as other materials. Although not considered a green product, laminates use a small amount of resin compared to plastic-based solid surfaces.
Ceramic tiles are another affordable option and relatively easy to install. Made from clay that is baked to remove moisture, the tiles are not damaged by hot pans or water and, when properly glazed, will not stain. Tiles are easy to customize and available in many colors and sizes. The downside is that the tiles may crack or chip if something heavy falls on them, although individual tiles can be replaced. Intense energy is required to mine and fire the tiles and many contain a high degree of recycled materials. Glass tiles are considered more environmentally friendly but are also more likely to scratch. The average cost for ceramic tiles is between $5 and $7 per square foot, although the cost of labor, tools and materials could be up to $40 an hour. The average countertop takes ten hours to install.
Solid surface countertops are made from acrylic or polyester resins and are also an affordable choice. These counters are strong and resistant to stains and mildew but still at risk for heat scars, scratches and dents, depending on the specific product selected. Production of these countertops is energy intensive, using primarily petrochemicals, and most of these materials are not recyclable. Costs range from $48 to $69 per square foot installed.
Wood countertops, including butcher block slabs, fall in a similar price range, about $40 to $65 per square foot, depending on the type of wood selected. The price of a teak countertop will be equivalent to a higher end stone; if you choose an exotic wood, the price can climb to $200 per square foot. Water and wood do not mix well but wooden countertops are heat resistant, although the wood must be sealed. Reclaimed or salvaged wood is the most sustainable choice but, to be eco-friendly, the Forest Stewardship Council also recommends using untreated hardwood. Check out its recommendations at www.us.fsc.org/en-us .
Engineered stone, often called quartz, is made from quartz crystals held together with acrylic resin binders, which are then pressed into slabs. The result is durable, heat resistant and looks very much like stone. The cost of engineered stone is $55 to $155 a square foot. There are some occupational and environmental concerns, however. When slabs of engineered stone are cut to fit a kitchen, quantities of silica particles are released, which, if inhaled by workers, can lead to silicosis or lung cancer.
Natural stone, like granite, marble and soapstone, is one of the more expensive options. Prices vary from about $60 a square foot to $200 or more, depending on which slab you select. Marble is similar to granite in durability, but commonly costs about $50 more per square foot. Soapstone is also more expensive than granite. It’s energy intensive to quarry and transport these materials long distances, which makes them a less green choice.
Recycled glass, stainless steel, sealed cement, limestone, bamboo, and paper stone are aesthetic choices for a more out-of-the-box kitchen design. Stainless steel, which is virtually indestructible but not immune to scratches, costs about $67 to $95 per square foot. Environmentally friendly recycled glass countertops are sturdy and available in every imaginable color, with a price tag between $50 and $100 per square foot.
At this year’s IMM Cologne, Alfredo Häberli’s vision for a kitchen of the future called for a vegetable garden, an oven that descends from the ceiling, and a transparent, horizontal refrigerator. Learn more at www.livingkitchen-cologne.com .
Also spotted at the international furnishing fair were new innovations in countertops: Polish concrete, concraft.pl; genuine stone worktops from Germany, leicht.com; Jetstone from the Netherlands, jetstone.nl; and Ukrainian glass, www.elio.ua .
7875 Northcourt, Suite 100
(To the trade)
Bay Area Kitchens
17306 Highway 3, Webster
Cabinets & Designs Incorporated
1022 Wirt, Suite 308
Countertops & Flooring by Traditional Designs
3602 West 12th
Decorative Concrete Supply Inc.
8310 Castleford, Suite 250
Fabulous Granite & Marble
Houston Bath & Kitchen
The Lonestar Range Hood Company
1226 Jackson Boulevard
PLM Remodel & Restoration
6424 Highway 6 North